Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Showing posts with label Watchmen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Watchmen. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Awaken the Amnesiacs 12A: You're Locked in Here with Me

KEVIN SPACEY AND HIS BIZARRE CHRISTMAS EVE VIDEO | Double Toasted (25 December 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

To follow on my previous post on Kevin Spacey's Christmas video, see the above discussion from Double Toasted, which explains Spacey's video clearly. As host Korey Coleman points out, Spacey is owning his alleged sexual predator status and is using the scandal as a dark moment of supervillain self-empowerment. Notice the public reaction is one of confusion and puzzlement. We in the public are offended, but that has no effect on Kevin Spacey. Instead, he blossoms. We are taken off guard, our status as moral arbiters shaken and it provokes discussion as to what is going on, when in fact the punishment, if Spacey were to be found guilty, should be swift and severe. Instead, the mob withdraws to laugh, to chat about it, to wonder what is happening. We can't help but admire the audacity of it, the sheer insanity of the situation.

This is a supervillain victory. Supervillains have milestone moments too, and unfortunately, everyone identifies with this because the Internet peddles motivation, ego-boosting formulas, and self-improvement, beyond what is right and wrong. This reveals how social media can be turned upside down, to invert values, to appeal with negativity, to charm with revulsion. Spacey comes into his own as a supervillain, extending his bat wings and letting his scales breathe for the first time. As I stated in my previous post, Spacey's new theatre is the public space in virtual reality.

Spacey in his youth. Images Sources: TVOM, Bored Panda, Stack Exchange.

The message is, as Double Toasted host Martin Thomas states, akin to that of the Watchmen's Rorschach: I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me. Social media platforms are one big prison, and we're locked in with the celebrity lunatic who can, with one tweak of the atmosphere, unhinge us all. Double Toasted's Korey Goodwin stated: "I've never had somebody aggressively act at me."

Image Source: pinterest.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Counter Surveillance Society

Image Source: NSA Observer.

This past month saw a public push against the growing threat of a total Surveillance Society. On that issue, Xplode, makers of anti-adware, must be running across a lot of tracking junk files on people's computers. Xplode works under the French parent software team General Changelog, which appears to be supporting or developing a project called NSA Observer.

NSA Observer provides a summary of all public knowledge about the NSA online spying apparatus. The NSA Observer cites sources, including the Snowden leaks and public reports. Their site shows users the names of NSA-sourced spyware which may end up on private computers; it also shows the web of matrices by which these programs relate to one another. These programs have florid Millennial tech names, some of which hint at their functions, if you give them a little thought: Chewstick; Cineplex; CobaltFalcon; Ambulent; DogCollar; DistantFocus; MailOrder; MoonPenny; Ocelot; OrangeBlossom; RoyalConcierge (traces international diplomatic hotel and car reservations); OnionBreath (a GCHQ program); SurlySpawn; TalentKeyhole (a control system for space-based collection platforms); WealthyCluster; YachtShop; CottonMouth; EpicFail; EgotisticalGiraffe; FeedTrough; FlyingPig; GodSurge (provides software application persistence on Dell PowerEdge servers by exploiting the JTAG debugging interface of the server's processors); Hemlock; IrateMonk; PeddleCheap; OlympusFire; QuantumCookie; SlickerVicar; Trinity; Validator; WagonBed; WistfulToll; and ZestyLeak. If you read each entry carefully, you start to understand the nature and alarming extent of Internet monitoring. Take for example TreasureMap:
a near real-time, interactive map of the global Internet. It is a massive Internet mapping, analysis and exploration engine. It collects Wi-Fi network and geolocation data, and between 30 million and 50 million unique Internet provider addresses. The program can map “any device, anywhere, all the time.” Intelligence officials say "it only maps foreign and Defense Department networks".
The NSA Observer describes NSA programs as:
Programs are multimillion dollar projects that involve countries, companies, individuals and various technologies in the making of software, hardware and network manipulations used by NSA teams. Programs gather, handle and analyse data in order to determine how to collect more data. Most of the time, this data is gathered through invasive means. 
The site also lists NSA Attack Vectors:
Attack vectors are malicious tools executed on targeted individuals and/or organizations in order to gather more data on them. These attacks are most of the time directly aimed at individuals who have been identified as worthy targets.
And NSA Compartments:
Compartment is "jargon" that describes a team of persons, companies or countries. For higher security, the structure of intelligence agencies uses teams who are ignorant of the identity of the other teams. Should a compartment be compromised, other compartments should remain safe.
Fledgeling Metadata. Critics equate the NSA's collection of metadata with notorious secret police corps such as the East German Stasi: "Click here to explore a hand-drawn graphic, made by the East German secret police, that appears to show the social connections the Stasi gleaned about a poet they were spying on." Image Source: Stasi via ProPublica.

Monday, December 9, 2013

More Snowden Leaks: Who Watches the Watchmen?

A World of Warcraft dwarf warrior. Image Source: Got Warcraft.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we are now watching governments watch us. A report from The Wire states that the NSA and GCHQ have been spying on players in virtual reality environments:
As it turns out, your guild isn't the only group watching your level 90 dwarf warrior slay the Horde like its a walk through the park: The NSA and its British intelligence counterpart, the GCHQ, are watching World of Warcraft, too. That's according to a new report from The Guardian, The New York Times, and ProPublica, which also details the intelligence community's surveillance of Second Life and the Microsoft XBox Live network.

According to the report, the NSA collected the content and metadata of communications between players, while creating characters to target (and attempt to recruit) specific users. The report, like many other recent revelations on the extent of U.S. intelligence collection, cites documents obtained through Edward Snowden.

The documents also outline the agency's logic in starting the program. According to one 2008 NSA document, intelligence officials were able to match "terrorist target selectors” to accounts in a handful of online games. They also discovered that some potential foreign agent recruits were playing World of Warcraft, including "engineers, embassy drivers, scientists and other foreign intelligence operatives." ...

here's an interesting tidbit on a 2007 meeting between NSA officials and a now former executive at Linden Lab, who pitched his own company's service as [an] intelligence gathering gold mine:
The executive, Cory Ondrejka, was a former Navy officer who had worked at the NSA with a top-secret security clearance. He visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement. It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”
And in 2009, the government solicited proposals for research grants intended to fund inquiries into the links between online behavior in video games and the real-world behavior of the player. It's not clear if any of the programs mentioned in the documents are still in effect. The [leaked] documents are available to view here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Time Management

Ozymandius in Watchmen. Image Source: Comic Vine.
From Comic Vine, on time, ego and morality:
"You don’t often get a character who is both the ultimate hero and villain of his piece. Ozymandias saves his world but, in doing so, becomes a terrible monster. In many ways this makes him the perfect statement about superheroes in the Post-Modern world. We don’t believe you can save the day without doing something horrible. Some will argue that the man has no personality, but his superiority complex, arrogance, and the weight he carries his decision with make him very real to me. Like Alexander the Great, he tries to unite the world with violence."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Retro Darkness Around Hollywood Stars

"Whatever happened [to] my friend Corey Haim?" The Thrills (2004); (song here; lyrics here). Image Source: Cynema via J. Haim.

There has been a lot of Hollywood retro around of late. There was this post on Joan Crawford and this one on Crawford and Garbo; and there was this post on Hollywood turning surreal in the 1940s.

I recently read James Hutchings's The Case of the Syphilitic Sister, a pulp Minutemen-esque story at Jukepop Serials. His metahuman reworking of the 30s' mystery thriller is a fascinating Millennial mash-up. It is not set in Hollywood, but the cultic tone of Hutchings' work reminded me a bit of the Black Dahila and the unfortunate celebrations after Whitney Houston's death last year.

The rise and fall of today's stars eerily repeat parties, scandals and deaths of yesterday. It is almost as though the stars of each new generation become doubles of the ones who came before; they face the same highs and dangers.

I generally don't follow Hollywood gossip unless something remarkable happens like Britney Spears shaving her head and chasing after paps with an umbrella. But lately, the huge success of Justin Bieber has reminded me of the appeal of the Gen X teen heartthrob, the late Corey Haim. It is a compelling story: a Canadian teen carries some northern magnetic secret south in an intrepid bid to win American hearts, and succeeds. That secret might be genuineness, honesty, innocence, and hope from a land similar enough to be familiar, but actually quite different; whatever it is, it is a secret forgotten and lost in America's heart of darkness. The Canadian kid who goes to California to make it big was a central trope in David Lynch's neo-noir "poisonous valentine to Hollywood," Mulholland Drive (2001).

For some time, I've noticed lingering efforts to get Haim a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (one online petition is here). I have always thought (80s' nostalgia aside) that Haim was an actor who had a great deal of talent that was misdirected through formulaic vehicles in his stellar youth. Then, due to sexual abuse by his Hollywood minders, he became mired in drug addiction.

He lost the magical light in his acting that would have brought him more serious roles as an adult. Could he have regained it? He still had charisma in roles just before his death, especially when he played against type, as in Crank: High Voltage (2009). But the drugs - and what they masked - had nearly sucked out his soul. He never matured into a DiCaprio. And he was never allowed to pull a no-holds-barred Mickey Rourke comeback. I do not know whether Haim could have managed what Rourke did in Sin City (2005) if he had stayed clean and kept working into his forties.

There was nothing, looking at Haim's original promise, which said he could not have done either. After his breakthrough role in Lucas (1986), Roger Ebert famously anticipated both Haim's promise and sad fate:
Lucas is played by Corey Haim, who was Sally Field's son in Murphy's Romance, and he does not give one of those cute little boy performances that get on your nerves. He creates one of the most three-dimensional, complicated, interesting characters of any age in any recent movie. If he can continue to act this well, he will never become a half-forgotten child star, but will continue to grow into an important actor. He is that good. 
What would Haim have become, had he not been, as Alison Arngrim put it: "corrupted in every possible way" by his Hollywood guardians? It is a little tricky for his fans to ask Tinseltown for recognition, since the silence around Haim's death is evidently bound up with the dark side of Hollywood - and entertainment in general. One would think in the wake of the Savile scandal in Britain (mentioned in this post), that Hollywood would do more to recognize victims like Haim to make amends for its own ugly history of paedophilia. Perhaps giving Haim a star would publicly open that can of worms, and force some quarters to account for crimes committed. Perhaps, as in the Savile case, Haim's ruined talent (and the miseries of other victims) will only be acknowledged in Hollywood after the perpetrators are dead.
One blog commenter points out that paedophilia in Hollywood is hinted at in the famous movie, The Godfather (1972):
In The Godfather, they briefly referred to this vile behavior - with parental approval. Producer "Jack Woltz" has the birthday party for a very young actress at the studio (even gives her a pony), then later at his home when he's having dinner with "Tom," you see the little girl at the top of the stairs, crying and disheveled. Her mother takes her back into the bedroom.
If anything, Hollywood's silence about Haim's death at the Oscars and SAG awards might confirm what his friend and co-star Corey Feldman claimed: that the industry is sitting on a terrible open secret that it does not want to acknowledge. That, and the industry is filled with callousness.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

A random glance at the headlines of professional and trade papers, newsletters and online forums betrays the crushing weight of corporations and corporate interests on too many facets of daily life. Almost every week, I see articles from different sectors which describe some aspect of this overall trend.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Countdowns to Nuclear Midnight

The Atlantic's countdown to war with Iran clock. Image Source: The Atlantic.

Um. The Atlantic magazine has adapted the Doomsday clock to count down to war with Iran, here. According to their panel of commentators, we are 10 metaphorical minutes from nuclear war.

The real Doomsday clock (here), maintained since 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago, moved to five minutes to the midnight of nuclear war on 10 January 2012. The scientists' rationale for ramping up their symbolic warning is here; they stated: "It is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007. Unfortunately, Einstein's statement in 1946 that 'everything has changed, save the way we think,' remains true. "

In the famous comic, The Watchmen, the Doomsday clock trope was used to tie the entire series together. This is an example of how the most serious levels of political and scientific discourse bleed over into pop culture, then bleed back into high level discussions again. Nuclear weapons were once the line in the sand, the horrific ever-present threat to smaller powers, which enforced uneasy Cold War peace. Now, that picture is inverted. The more sophisticated the push of science and tech, the harder it is for old political and economic explanations to accurately describe what is happening; and the more the fantastical messages of the world of graphic novels, or of any other mythological paradigm, become our chilling reality.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program

The Watchmen's blood-spattered smiley face symbolized the bone-cracking ironies of pacifist, free love America during the Vietnam War, exemplified by the character the Comedian, a cynical, ruthless battlefield government op who wears a smiley face button.

From the 2011 annals of Millennial Anxieties, I bring you this tidbit from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Ivory Tower's main paper in the United States. The Chronicle recently ran an interesting and chilling little piece on something called the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. It has all the weirdness of military psych projects that I've blogged about here and here. It is a completely real, $125 million attempt to use positive psychology techniques among military personnel, and it is being implemented as you read this without prior testing.

The aim of the program is to train soldiers to be psychologically healthy and resilient and prevent conditions like post traumatic stress disorder.  Of course that's a good thing.  And it's to be expected that the military would explore dimensions of psychological warfare, which include tactics to make soldiers cope with extreme conditions and chaos.  Yet the program has been developed by a researcher who induced a reaction called 'learned helplessness' by shocking canine research subjects for the CIA.  He's also written a book on how to be genuinely happy, which is described as a "user-friendly roadmap for human emotion." Uhm.  What?

Several prominent American psychologists have expressed concern about the program, but as one put it, "the train has already left the station." And just in case you think this has nothing to do with you, it looks like the idea is to use the military as a test case for broader application to the civilian population and make everyone happier. 

I've never been quite clear on why happiness is generally assumed to be the only mood possible to indicate mental health.  After all, depression is a mental reaction that occurs naturally and it serves certain functions.  Within limits, it protects the individual from further stresses while the psyche seeks to heal.  Since when was it 'healthy' to be 'happy' after being traumatized?  And while being psychologically stronger and happier is obviously ultimately desirable, why are we farming out control over enabling our happiness, and our capacity to be happy, to outside parties?

Regarding mass application of psych techniques among civilians: think of sites like Facebook that already monitor our personal data, friends, behaviour and values, and manipulate the data for marketing purposes.  Consider that mass psych techniques have been implemented in the creation of some dating services. In these systems, people willingly create intimate personal psych profiles of themselves and pay to hand that information over to private companies; is it not inconceivable that some dating services are in fact big psych tests - rat-in-the-maze scenarios - wherein a private company (aka dating service) monitors clients' behavioural reactions when presented with various choices?  Now, would you like some military psych test mass results with that? I ask you: Who Watches the Watchmen?  See the details of the report below the jump.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Art of the Retcon 2: DCnU's Orwellian Timecrunch

The DCnU panel at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con.  Image Source: Grizzly Bomb.

I've already commented on DCnU in terms of the demographics of anticipated readers here, and comics archetypes here. DCnU also reveals a disturbing, and very Millennial, treatment of history and time. The Internet has completely transformed our understanding of both.  This is because computer systems allow any historical source to be ripped out of context and juxtaposed with something that popped up yesterday.  Even before the Tech Revolution, the idea grew in the 20th century. 

The most famous use of real life retcons is in Stalinist-era USSR, when apparatchiks who fell out of favour were erased from photographs, which I have blogged about here.  It was used in South America in the 1970s, when political dissidents 'disappeared' and their identities were wiped off the face of the earth, as though they had never existed.  In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell had his protagonist employed in rewriting old newspaper articles to erase records of people later deemed undesirable by the state.  This critique of oligarchical collectivism spawned his famous INGSOC line: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."

Now, I'm not saying that the core messages in DC's fictions have anything in common with murderous dictatorships. Rather, I am suggesting that the use and abuse of history has become widespread across cultures and political spectrums in the 20th and 21st centuries.  It used to be that the past was sacred.  What had been done could not be undone.  It could be reinterpreted by historians, but only within reason and in well-sourced and well-defended arguments.  Given Orwell's communist critiques, it's tempting to put a political spin on this - socialists call for revolutions, liberals like change, conservatives cling to the past.  But the dangerous Postmodern notion that rewriting or erasing history brings money and power is seductive to all who seek them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Death of Heroism and the DCnU Rebirth

The Justice Society of America, the first team of superheroes in comic book history, drawn by Alex Ross. (Hat tip: It's a Dan's World.)

I've written before about comic book superheroes as ancient gods that still survive in our culture.  They represent our most enduring grasp of right and wrong, the archetypes that come to us across the ages (see my post on Ur-memory of those ideas here), incredibly across thousands, perhaps even millions of years.  Looking at Green Lantern on a lunchbox or backpack, that seems an absurd assertion.  Perhaps we tolerate this pantheon of pagan deities in an era of mainstream Millennial religions precisely because the ancient gods have dwindled down to figures in comic mythologies that we tell children and youths; and these myths are not taken that seriously.

Yet the archetypes embedded here still have weight.  They also constitute serious commercial interests. That raises the question of why these archetypes over the past twenty years, and especially in the last ten (when DC has been under Dan Didio's leadership), have been undermined?  Why is DC Comics, the original classic superhero comics company, so preoccupied with the breakdown of heroes and heroism?  Why are their heroes dying?  Why are their characters being wiped from existence or rebooted in ways that taint them?  What does it mean when their core values are stripped from them?  Why are they being benched and sidelinedAnd why are the Outsiders, classic Titans, Justice Society, and Doom Patrol the key casualties in this reboot?  I've commented on the JLA-centric generational and Bat-commercial aspects of the reboot which left the JSA, Doom Patrol and Titans out in the cold here; and my posts on what the Titans and Doom Patrol signify are here and here.  There's a good series of posts this week on what fans are losing as the DCU dies, over at It's a Dan's World (here).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 2: The Death of the Postmodern Hero

Death of the Flash, COIE #8 (Nov. 1985)

In pulp fiction, character-driven stories, so beloved from the 1970s to the mid-1980s, are now a thing of the past. For many years, but especially since about 2003, DC's comics universe has been awash in death, legacy characters doing the rounds in their fourth versions, dying, and coming back in fifth versions (see my blog entry on this here). DC’s two big events in 2009-2010, Blackest Night and Brightest Day, epitomize the morbid fascination with death and resurrection. Yet the leading lights of the company proclaim that these events in fact will halt the tide of death and reinvest it with meaning, a message that was carried out of Blackest Night. In BN issue #8, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) announces that ‘dead is dead from here on out.’

While we wait for Brightest Day to deliver on writer Geoff Johns’s promise to give death meaning again, it’s obvious that DC and its competitor Marvel have a problem on their hands. During the Modern Age of Comics, which has run from the mid-1980s to the present, the mainstream comics companies painted themselves into a corner when they created the so-called ‘revolving door of death.’ Now, characters die so often in the name of ‘grim drama,’ that readers and critics cynically, or wearily, do body counts at the end of every crossover event. Why has DC killed off more than 650 (at latest fan count here at Legion World) of its characters since 2003? In all this overkill, the 2010 death of the young character Lian Harper aroused outrage at the company for gratuitously manipulating its readers, by taking excess to a new low. There is a deviantART site devoted to the topic here.  Yet DC mistakenly took this emotional response to mean that its creative team had created a dramatic story that moved its readers, rather than comprehending that their audience was expressing annoyance and genuine death trope exhaustion. Why is DC so tone deaf when it comes to hearing what fans are saying? A flood of gore cannot be used to revive the seriousness of already-overused death memes that once were sacrosanct.
X-Men #136 (Aug. 1980)

There’s more to this than a vicious circle of commercialism. Let’s go back. The death of a hero in any medium, let alone in comics, was once the height of drama. It grew out of older roots in epics, fairy tales, literature and religious sources. It was a narrative line that was almost never crossed. It carried weight. And because it was a powerful dramatic tool, it was invariably a commercially successful plot device. Practically every comics fan recognizes the famous X-men cover of Cyclops holding a half-dead Jean Grey. The cover foreshadowed her death in the next issue, when she sacrificed herself to save the universe in the Dark Phoenix Saga. According to Marvel wikia, issue #137 from September 1980 was “the first time that a major Marvel Comics super-hero [wa]s killed off on-panel.” Jean Grey’s death might be considered a harbinger of the Modern Age.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 4.1 - The Anti-Robin: Terra in the 2010s

Image Source: Media Comicbook.

The 2010s

(This post is backdated to be part of my 2010 blog series on Terra, written on 4 April 2017): Request from a reader: "Are you going to review the Teen Titans Judas Contract DTV movie? Because it and its ending actually changed/fixed a lot that was wrong with the portrayal of Terra and Slade and their dynamic, so it looks like FINALLY there are people at DC who are willing to look at a revered past story with some scrutiny. Regards."

I had had it with Dan DiDio's DC, and what they did to the Titans so they could de-age their A-listers. They turned the Titans into a Marvel youth brand, a New Mutants lite, rather than thinking through DC's legacies. I settled in for the Long Wait until DiDio retires. IMO, you would need new, radical people, probably in the 2020s, to recover the older Titans characters to their full, edgy potential.